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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hamilton’s victory overturned, Massa wins Belgium

A largely uneventful Belgian Grand Prix turned into one of the most exciting races in recent memory over the final laps with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen battling for the win as rain began to fall at Spa-Francorchamps.

But that was nothing compared to the excitement post-race as the stewards determined Hamilton gained an advantage in his battle with the Finn by cutting the Bus Stop chicane, despite the Briton lifting and then repassing Raikkonen.

Almost two and a half hours after the champagne was sprayed, Hamilton was handed a 25 second penalty, demoting him to third place and vastly changing the landscape of the drivers championship.

“The stewards, having received a report from the race director and having met with the drivers and team managers involved, have...determine a breach of the regulations has been committed by the competitor and impose the penalty referred to," ITV reports the FIA statement read.

Handed the victory, Felipe Massa now finds himself just two point adrift in the title race. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld inherited second.

“I have often said that the race is not over until the official results are published and that was the case today, Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali said. “As usual, Ferrari will not comment on the stewards' decision. This result is obviously very important for our Championship hopes.”

McLaren intend to appeal the decision, claiming the data support its position.

Toyota’s Timo Glock was also given a 25 second penalty for passing under the yellow. The penalty demotes the German to ninth and promotes Red Bull’s Mark Webber to the final points paying position.

It was a wild and wacky finish for a race which ran almost without incident most of the way. Rain had greeted the morning, leaving parts of the circuit damp, but the sun was shining as the teams took to the grid.

Hamilton led when the lights went out, with Raikkonen in second after going wheel-to-wheel with teammate Massa, the rest of the field tangled up at a chaotic first corner.

Hamilton quickly built up a gap, but it all went down the tubes after a lap 2 spin at La Source. Raikkonen took advantage of the mistake and moved into the lead.

“I got a good start. I got away and I was feeling comfortable. The difficulty was that bits of the track were still wet, at the last corner and turn one, so I was having to make sure I got the braking right,” Hamilton explained. “It was still a bit unknown and I went into turn one and I think on the last downshift it just locked the rears. It was a pretty pathetic spin but there was nothing I could do about it.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, had been steadily trying to make up ground after being caught up in the melee at the first corner. Unfortunately for the McLaren man, he clipped Mark Webber’s Red Bull on lap 10 and was handed a drive through penalty, which he would serve on lap 15.

Hamilton was first to pit on lap 11, followed by Raikkonen one lap later. A series of fast laps prior by Raikkonen had built a sizable lead on Hamilton, and they paid off, the Finn maintaining the race lead after the first round of pit stops.

“That spin really did put us on the back foot. It was a relatively big mistake from me,” Hamilton said. “If it had stayed dry, we probably could have won if I had stayed ahead. It could have been quite critical.”

Nelson Piquet, who had gambled and started on intermediates, was the first retirement of the race when he spun and found the tire barrier, ending his race on lap 14, another poor result for the Brazilian.

Countryman Rubens Barrichello became the second retirement of the race on lap 18 when he pulled his Honda into the garage. It was a difficult weekend for the Brackley squad, who must be hoping at this point the extra time to work on their 2009 challenger will reap benefits.

Meanwhile, Raikkonen continued to set fast laps, as it looked like Ferrari’s domination of the storied circuit was set to continue. Hamilton chased the flying Finn, with Massa in third.

Both Raikkonen and Hamilton were in on lap 25 for their final stops, the Ferrari maintaining its lead. But now Hamilton was the one setting fast laps, and began closing the gap. Adding to the drama, rain was now on the way.

“On the soft tyres, I could run at a good pace, while the final set, the harder ones, was not quite there - definitely not as good in performance terms as those I'd used in the past couple of days - and the balance of the car was not as good as earlier,” Raikkonen said.

Fernando Alonso was the first to report drops of rain on lap 37. By lap 44 it was pouring, as Hamilton and Raikkonen went wheel-to-wheel, swapping the lead back and forth before Hamilton made his pass.

“I mean to be honest he pushed me wide. I was a little bit ahead and I was on the outside of turn one,” Hamilton said. “He could have been fair as I had no room. He pushed me to the point where I would either have been on the kerb and crashed into him or have to go on the escape route, so I went on the escape route.

“I understood I had to let him past, so I did,” he continued. “I got in his tow and he was ducking and diving left and right and I did the same and managed to get back to the inside of him.”

And then it was all over for Raikkonen as he lost the back end and went into the tire wall in the slippery conditions.

Massa moved into second and cautiously made his way around the wet track to consolidate his eight points. It was a move that paid dividends and the Ferrari man brought the car home safely in dire conditions and was in a position to receive maximum benefit with Hamilton’s demotion.

“To be honest, I was slower than I was supposed to be,” Massa said before his promotion to race winner. “I saw many people going off, especially Kimi, and then Lewis was a little bit in front, so I said I don't want to risk the right points. I was quite comfortable going very slow through the corners especially.”

Heidfeld took the checkered flag in third after gambling on a change to wets when the clouds opened up. While others gingerly made their way on the final lap, the German picked them off one by one to nail a podium finish.

“It was pretty much a hero or zero decision,” said an obviously ecstatic Heidfeld. “When it started to drizzle, the first lap it was just a little bit but the second lap it became more and then I just thought I will take a gamble. I knew there were not many laps to go and took the decision to go on inters.”

“The team asked me again what I wanted to do and I think it was the perfect call,” he continued. “When I went out I asked how many laps to go and they said this one and then another one and I couldn't see anybody in front of me and thought maybe it was the wrong decision. But they had to go so slow I managed to overtake a couple of cars on the last lap.”

Fernando Alonso was fourth, making the best of what Renault had to offer.

“It's a good result for the team, especially for our position in the championship because our objective was to score some important points,” the Spaniard commented. “We missed out on a podium today, but we have shown that we can be the third strongest team in the championship.”

Sebastian Vettel was fifth in the Toro Rosso, despite being outshone by teammate Sebastian Bourdais for much of the race. The Frenchman wound up seventh after being as high as third in the lottery which was the final lap.

Robert Kubica was sixth for BMW Sauber, with Toyota’s Timo Glock rounding out the top eight prior to his penalty.

Now it’s a quick turn around as the teams head for another storied circuit, Monza, for next week’s Italian Grand Prix. Both championship races are turning into nail-biters, with Hamilton maintaining a slim lead on Massa in the drivers table; Ferrari with a small edge on McLaren and BMW Sauber still within a shout in the constructors race.

Who said Formula One is boring?

Revised Belgian Grand Prix result
  1. Massa, Ferrari
  2. Heidfeld, BMW
  3. Hamilton, McLaren*
  4. Alonso, Renault
  5. Vettel, Toro Rosso
  6. Kubica, BMW
  7. Bourdais, Toro Rosso
  8. Webber, Red Bull
  9. Glock, Toyota*
  10. Kovalainen, McLaren
  11. Coulthard, Red Bull
  12. Rosberg, Williams
  13. Sutil, Force India
  14. Nakajima, Williams
  15. Button, Honda
  16. Trulli, Toyota
  17. Fisichella, Force India
  18. Raikkonen, Ferrari
  19. Barrichello, Honda
  20. Piquet, Renault
*25-second time penalty Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that Hamilton's penalty will be successfully appealed. He gave the position back completely and clean, as required.
Chris

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